There is an important aspect to Pennsylvania's laws against driving under the influence (DUI) that many people forget: They do not just outlaw driving under the influence of alcohol. Instead, they leave open the possibility that you are driving under the influence of something else.
This is just a small sign of a significant fact in our state: Drugged driving is just as much of a problem as drunk driving.
Unfortunately, catching drugged drivers is far more difficult than it is to catch drunk drivers. Police simply do not have the tools to effectively determine if a driver is under the influence of illegal drugs like marijuana, or legal ones like prescribed medications. Dangerous drivers seem to know this, and have shown themselves far more willing to get behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs than they are to drive while drunk. This creates an increased risk of being seriously hurt in a car accident that was caused by someone else and through no fault of your own.
Statistics Show the Dangers of Drugged Driving
Driving a car is a significant responsibility because it involves moving a massive vehicle – even the smallest cars are still more than 2,000 pounds – at speeds that can hurt other people if the driver loses control. Being under the influence of anything drastically increases the likelihood of losing control, missing signs of a dangerous road hazard, or being unable to appropriately react in time to avoid a collision.
This is especially true when someone is under the influence of drugs.
One study, done by the Transport Research Laboratory, found that drivers who were under the influence of marijuana were far slower to react than a sober driver. According to their study, the response time of stoned drivers was 21% slower than a normal one. This percentage increase was even worse than for drivers who were above the legal limit for alcohol – their response time was on 13% slower.
When it comes to drugged driving, it is driver who are under the influence of marijuana that pose the most serious and common threat. Aside from alcohol, marijuana is the drug that is most often found in the blood of drivers who have been involved in a car crash. These numbers are not small, and come close to rivaling the numbers of drunk drivers on the roads in the United States. According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 11.8 million people admitted to driving under the influence of illicit drugs in the past year. The number of people who admitted to driving while drunk in the past year – a problem that has caught the attention of the public and politicians far more than drugged driving – was only 20.7 million.
However, driving while under the influence of an illegal drug like marijuana is not the only way to drive while drugged. Pennsylvania's DUI law makes it illegal to drive while under the influence of any drug, and this includes drugs that you take by your doctor's prescription, and even over-the-counter drugs, as well. Many of these drugs, even though they are perfectly legal, have side-effects that impair your ability to drive. Even a drug as seemingly harmless as an allergy medication can make you drowsy enough that it makes driving more difficult. One study examined fatal crashes in the U.S. between 1993 and 2010, and found that, out of the drivers involved in these crashes who had tested positive for drugs, 47% of them had used a prescription drug, usually a pain reliever. This eclipsed the percentage of drivers – 37% – who had tested positive for marijuana.
Exactly how badly drugged driving increases the chance of a car accident, however, is in dispute. While one study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that insurance claims for car crashes increased 3% in states that had legalized marijuana, another study, published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) found no difference in the car accident fatality rates in Colorado and Washington before and after they legalized the drug. Another study, though, found that drivers with marijuana in their bloodstream were approximately twice as likely to be liable for a deadly car crash or to be killed in one.
Drugged Driving in Pennsylvania
Unfortunately, drugged driving is not just a national problem: It has infiltrated Pennsylvania, as well. In fact, Pennsylvania has been one of the hardest-hit states in the country, when it comes to drugged driving. The culprit has likely been the opioid crisis.
According to a numbers by AAA, around half of the 53,000 arrests for DUI in Pennsylvania in 2016 were for drugged driving. The majority of those drugged driving arrests involved legal prescription drugs, though, highlighting the complexities of drugged driving.
No Good Way to Detect Drugged Drivers
When it comes to drugged driving, the law is struggling to keep up with the problem. While DUI laws prohibit driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of more than 0.08%, there is no set standard for drugs. Even worse, many drugs do not reveal themselves in a breath test, making it very difficult for police to detect drugged drivers in a traffic stop. Instead, police need to bring them into the station for a blood test to determine if they are under the influence of drugs. Without a good enforcement technique, drugged drivers know that they can get away with being on the roads and putting innocent people at risk.
Personal Injury Attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian
Getting hurt in a car accident that was caused by a drugged driver is frustrating because there was often very little that you could do to prevent it. Nevertheless, accident victims are often seriously hurt, and have to pay thousands of dollars to get better.
The personal injury attorneys at the Philadelphia law office of Gilman & Bedigian work to fight for your rights and interests, and to get you the compensation that you need to get better after getting hurt by a drugged driver. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162.